“To appreciate the extent of change that took place in the Revolution, we have to re-create something of the old colonial society that was subsequently transformed.”
In a way this book is a sequel to his earlier book The Creation of the American Republic, where among other things he begins to discuss and understand the role that republicanism played in the early republic. This book is a continuation of that discussion and in a lot of ways carries on the ideas of the first book, and in other ways upends them. By starting out with trying to understand the social fabric of the pre-revolutionary colonies, Woods discusses a shift in the everyday life of most of the people in the colonies, and changing attitudes. The attitudes themselves didn’t change, so much as open up and create tension with a variety of competing ideas. In general, tension among competing ideas has consistently played a role in American culture and American politics since. The ideas include the emerging and then growing concept of republicanism, ie that people living in a society are no longer subjects, but citizens, and that there should not only be the guarantee of basic rights, but the continuing creation of more personal liberty as well as a continued hand in the politics of the country. So this tension is less about representation, and more and more about participation, and participating beyond voting.
One of the ways that Wood defines the previously held ideas is to introduce the ways in which paternalism functioned in various fields in the colonies. At the basic level, men held paternity over their wives and their children, and by extension the various hands, servants, employees, and of course enslaved people. The government then held its own version of this paternalism. This means that people owed fealty and allegiance to the pater figures, and in turn, the pater figures protected and provided for those under them. But as the country began shifting toward more republican views (and again, this isn’t everyone necessarily or entirely, but more of these views become more common and become part of a pluralist set of values), the shifts happened at both these personal relationships and political relationships.
In addition, as the structures of the English class system continued fell from the colonies, so to did the inherent respect toward one’s better (especially in heavily structured caste systems of English class — of course the American racial caste held steady and continues to hold steady in its ways ), the idea of gentlemen shifted from non-noble titled men to a more amorphous men with property. Official titles like lord, your honor, and esquire, begin to give way to the idea of “mister” which is lateral in its respect.
These are some of the changes that begin to show up culturally, that then play into the construction and development of the representational ideas of government. Because the American republic is a product of its time, and for all its faults, these ideas held influence in that formation. The radicalism that Wood is getting at comes from how unrevolutionary a lot of this process is (meaning that while the changes are significant, they happened before, usually gradually, and culturally first). He also suggests that this opening of things led to later social movements, and I would argue that their innate gradualism instilled a permanent sense of gradualism in social change that we still have today and is a frustrating part of the republic